Treating pre-schooler sleep problems and reducing mental health risk

Improving the sleep of pre-schoolers to reduce the risk of child mental health and academic problems is the goal of a new program by Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology.

Funded by Rotary Health and delivered at psychology clinics at universities in Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast as part of a research trial, the Lights Out Program is a series of small group workshops for parents of children in the year before they begin Prep/Reception.

The program is delivered across 6 weeks, which includes 5 x 1.5 hour weekly workshops and a personalised, one-on-one phone call check in.

“Sleep problems in the pre-school years represent a risk factor for numerous child mental health problems and academic problems, in the short and long-term,” says study leader Associate Professor Caroline Donovan from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology.

“The transition to primary school is one of the first developmental challenges that children face, and poor primary school transition itself is a risk factor for the development of child mental health and academic problems.

Enhancing academic outcomes

“Given that sleep problems are modifiable, it follows that successful treatment BEFORE children begin primary school will reduce child sleep and mental health problems, improve the transition to primary school, and enhance academic outcomes.”

The program team consists of a group of early childhood specialists, including clinical psychologists, university professors, researchers, educators and parents.

The workshops will provide parents with a range of strategies to help deal with different bedtime problems that this age group experience and helps them focus on tackling their child’s specific sleep problems by first examining what may be driving that sleep problem and whether it is biological, behavioural or fear based.

Some of the behaviours that are covered in the Lights Out Program include difficulties falling asleep, refusal to take part in the bedtime routine, being afraid or anxious, night time tantrum throwing, leaving the bedroom and co-sleeping to name a few.

“The Lights Out Program is the first randomised controlled trial examining the efficacy of a parent-focused, group-based, behavioural sleep program delivered BEFORE children begin primary school, compared to a care-as-usual condition.

“We will determine whether the Lights Out Program is more effective than care-as-usual, in reducing sleep and mental health problems, and improving school transition and academic outcomes during the first year of formal schooling.”

The project aims to recruit two cohorts across 2018 and 2019 to commence treatment in the last quarter of each year, with parents randomised to either receiving the Lights Out Program or care-as-usual.

Parents in both conditions will be assessed before and after the treatment phase, as well as at the end of terms 1 and 4 of the first year of primary school.

“Outcomes from this study will provide new directions for improving sleep, mental health problems, and preparedness for early major life transitions in young Australians,” says Associate Professor Donovan.

Interested participants for the study should contact: Phone: (07) 3735 3305

Email: preschoolsleep@griffith.edu.au

Facebook: fb.me@lightsoutsleep